Women's Health

Planning for Pregnancy: Why Preconception Health Is Important for Women and Men

Published: Jan. 21, 2021

The benefits of taking care of yourself – eating healthy, staying active, limiting the number toxins you’re exposed to, etc. – are endless. But taking care of your overall health becomes even more important when you’re trying to start a family.

If and when that time comes, I encourage couples – not just women – to strive for good preconception health.

What Is Preconception Care?

The goals of preconception care are to optimize your health, identify possible risks for pregnancy and reduce or eliminate those risks prior to pregnancy. This can decrease poor perinatal outcomes in pregnancy.

Not every couple will need a formal preconception consultation. Preconception care can take place with a primary care provider at your annual visits. He or she may ask questions about family planning to assess if you’re trying to achieve pregnancy.

If you don’t want to become pregnant, it’s important that you’re given the resources and information you need, as studies show that unintended pregnancies tend to have worse outcomes than planned pregnancies.

If you do want to become pregnant, your provider will determine whether your pregnancy would be considered high-risk. If a high-risk pregnancy appears to be in your future, I recommend seeing a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Methodist Women’s Hospital Perinatal Center for a preconception consultation.

What Does a Preconception Care Checkup Consist Of?

During a preconception care checkup, we’ll spend most of the visit talking about your medical history and how that will affect pregnancy. Additionally, we’ll come up with a plan to optimize your health prior to pregnancy and discuss how we will monitor the pregnancy to ensure the best outcome for mother and child.

We’ll discuss:

• Your overall health

• Any medications you're taking

• Your daily habits

• Your genetic history

We’ll review your blood pressure, as elevated blood pressure can increase your risk for:

• Fetal growth abnormalities

• Preeclampsia

• Preterm delivery

• Placental abruption

And we’ll also evaluate your weight. This is important, as obesity can increase your risk for:

• Gestational diabetes

• Fetal growth abnormalities

• C-section

• Infection after delivery

Being underweight can increase your risk for:

• Preterm delivery

• Fetal growth abnormalities

• Miscarriage

What About Preconception Health for Men?

Taking steps to live a healthier life can benefit everyone – not just those looking to get pregnant. And according to the CDC, preconception health is defined as the health of women and men during their reproductive years. So yes, men, preconception health is just as important for you. It’s about getting and staying healthy for a baby you may not be trying for now but could be down the road.

Men and women need to know that a history of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can sometimes cause infertility. Additionally, an STI during pregnancy can pose significant health risks to the baby. That’s why it’s so important that men get tested and/or treated before trying to conceive.

Other controllable factors that could cause infertility in men, include:

 • Obesity

 • Certain medications

 • Smoking or the use of street drugs (marijuana and cocaine)

 • Heavy alcohol use

Likewise, there are things men can do to enhance their fertility. Men, you also have an important role in encouraging your partner’s health. After all, raising a baby takes teamwork. It’s important that both partners are proactive in living their healthiest lives.

The Impact of Old Habits and Lifestyle

Again, if you’ve ever been diagnosed with an STI, it could impact your ability to get pregnant. But in terms of habits that are known to be unhealthy for pregnancy (heavy drinking, drug use, exposure to other types of toxins, etc.), they should have little to no impact on your pregnancy and baby’s health if they’ve been corrected. 

So start now. Make the changes and maintain the habits necessary for optimal health and happiness – if not for a little bundle of joy one day, for yourself.

If you’re interested in starting a family and want to address your preconception health, Methodist Physicians Clinic Women's Center has a number of services to help you every step of the way.

About the Author

As a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, Emily Patel, MD, FACOG, is most inspired by the women and families she cares for. She has seen and experienced the gamut of her specialty, including the joy of bringing a rainbow baby into the world and the heart-wrenching loss of a newborn or stillborn baby.

“Having the chance to help a family through a difficult and challenging pregnancy is a privilege,” she said. “While there are many difficult days, there are also times I get to celebrate a good pregnancy outcome, and that gives me so much joy!”

She attended medical school and completed her residency at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She also completed a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at Duke University. 

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